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MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.
The only edition of this comedy known before the folio 1623, is a quarto printed in 1600, entitled :—“Much adoe about Nothing, as it hath been sundrie times publikely acted by the right honourable the Lord Chamberlaine his seruants. Written by William Shakespeare. London Printed by V. S. for Andrew Wise and William Aspley, 1600.” It is supposed originally to have been acted under the title of “Benedick and Beatrix," and, from being unnoticed by Meres, to have been written not earlier than 1598.
The serious incidents of his plot, some writers conjecture, Shakespeare derived from the story of Ariodante and Geneura, in Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, which, in 1582-3, was made the subject of dramatic representation, and played before Queen Elizabeth by “Mulcaster's children,” that is, the children of St. Paul's school, and of which an English translation by Sir John Harrington, Elizabeth's “merry poet," and godson, was published in 1591. Others, with more probability, believe the source from whence he took them was some now extinct version of Bandello's twenty-second novel, “ Como il S. Timbreo di Cardona, essendo col Re Piero d'Aragona in Messina, s'innamora, di Fenicia Leonata : e i varii fortunevoli accidenti, che avvennero prima che per moglie la prendesse.” In Bandello's story the scene, like that of the comedy, is laid at Messina; the name of the slandered lady's father is the same, Lionato, or Leonato; and the friend of her lover is Don Piero, or Pedro. These coincidences alone are sufficient to establish some near or remote connexion between the novel and the play, but a brief sketch of the romance will place their affinity almost beyond doubt. Don Piero of Arragon returns from a victorious campaign, and, with the gallant cavalier Timbreo di Cardona, is at Messina. Timbreo falls in love with Fenicia, the daughter of Lionato di Leonati, a gentleman of Messina, and, like Claudio in the play, courts her by proxy. He is successful in his suit, and the lovers are betrothed : but the course of true love is impeded by one Girondo, a disappointed admirer of the lady, who determines to prevent the marriage. In pursuance of this object, he insinuates to Timbreo that Fenicia is false, and offers to show him a stranger scaling her chamber window. The unhappy lover consents to watch ; and at the appointed hour, Girondo and a servant in the plot, pass him disguised, and the latter is seen to ascend a ladder and enter the house of Lionato. In an agony of rage and jealousy, Timbreo in the morning accuses the lady of disloyalty, and rejects the alliance. Fenicia falls into a swoon; a dangerous illness supervenes; and the father, to stifle all rumours hurtful to her fame, removes her to a retired house of his brother, proclaims her death, and solemnly performs her funeral obsequies. Girondo is now struck with remorse at having “slandered to death" a creature so innocent and beautiful. He confesses his treachery to Timbreo, and both determine to restore the reputation of the lost one, and undergo any penance her family may impose. Lionato is merciful, and requires only from Timbreo, that he shall wed a lady whom he recommends, and whose face shall be concealed till the marriage ceremony is over. The dénouement is obvious. Timbreo espouses the mysterious fair one, and finds in her his injured, loving, and beloved Fenicia.
The comic portion of "Much Ado about Nothing," involving the pleasant stratagems by which the principal characters are decoyed into matrimony with each other, is Shakespeare's own design, and the amalgamation of the two plots is managed with so much felicity, that no one, perhaps, who read the comedy for entertainment only, ever thought them separable.
SCENE I.—Before Leonato's House. Enter LEONATO, HERO, BEATRICH, and others, with a Messenger.
LEON. I learn in this letter, that don Pedro * of Arragon comes this night to Messina.
Mess. He is very near by this ; he was not three leagues off when I left him.
LEON. How many gentlemen have you lost in this action?
LEON. A victory is twice itself, when the achiever brings home full numbers. I find here, that don Pedro * hath bestowed much honour on a young Florentine, called Claudio.
MESS. Much deserved on his part, and equally remembered by don Pedro: he hath borne himself beyond the promise of his age, doing, in the figure of a lamb, the feats of a lion: he hath, indeed, better bettered expectation, than you must expect of me to tell you how.
Leon. He hath an uncle here in Messina will be very much glad of it.
MESS. I have already delivered him letters, and there appears much joy in him; even so much, that joy could not show itself modest enough, without a badge of bitterness.
LEON. Did he break out into tears?
LEON. A kind overflow of kindness: there are no faces truer than those that are so washed. How much better is it to weep at joy, than to joy at weeping!
BEAT. I pray you, is signior Montanto returned from the wars. or no?
Mess. I know none of that name, lady; there was none such in the army of any sort.
(*) Old text, Peter. * Enter Leonato, &c.] The stage-direction in the old copies is, “ Enter Leonato governour of Messina, Innogen his wife, Hero his daughter, and Beatrice his Neece, with a Messenger.” As the wife of Leonato takes no part in the action, and neither speaks nor is spoken to throughout the play, she was probably no more than a character the poet had designed in his first sketch of the plot, and which he found reason to omit afterwards.
b But few of any sort, and none of name.] It may be questionable whether any sort, in this instance, is to be understood in the ordinary sense we attach to it, of any kind, or description, or whether it means any of rank, or distinction ; but every one acquainted with our early literature is aware that sort was commonly used—as in a subsequent speech of the same character, “there was none such in the army of any sort."—to imply stamp, degree, quality, &c. Thus, in Ben Jonson's “ Every Man out of his Humour, Act II. Sc. 6.–Look you, sir, you presume to be a gentleinan of sort.” Again, in the same author's “ Every Man in his IIumour,” Act I. Sc. 2:—“A gentleman of your sort, parts," &c. And in “Ram Alley,” Act IV. Sc. 1:4" Her husband is a gentleman of
“A gentleman of sort ! why, what care I ?” c Montanto-) A term borrowed from the Italian schools of fence :-". - you. punto, your reverso, your stoccata, your imbrocata, your passada, your Montanto."Every Man in his Humour.
d of any sort.] See note b).
LEON. What is he that you ask for, niece ?
BEAT. He set up his bills (1) here in Messina, and challenged Cupid at the flight: and my uncle's fool, reading the challenge, subscribed for Cupid, and challenged him at the bird-bolt.(2)—I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath he killed ? for, indeed, I promised to eat all of his killing.
Leon. Faith, niece, you tax signior Benedick too much; but he'll be meet with you, I doubt it not.
MESS. He hath done good service, lady, in these wars.
BEAT. You had musty victual, and he hath holp to eat it: he is a very valiant trencher-man, he hath an excellent stomach.
MESS. And a good soldier too, lady.
MESS. A lord to a lord, a man to a man; stuffed with all honourable virtues.
BEAT. It is so, indeed, he is no less than a stuffed man, but for the stuffing,-Well, we are all mortal.
Leon. You must not, sir, mistake my niece: there is a kind of merry war betwixt signior Benedick and her: they never meet, but there is a skirmish of wit between them.
BEAT. Alas! he gets nothing by that. In our last conflict, four of his five wits & went halting off, and now is the whole man governed with one: so that if he have wit enough to keep himself warm, let him bear it for a differenceb between himself and his horse : for it is all the wealth that he hath left, to be known a reasonable creature.Who is his companion now? he hath every month a new sworn brother.
MESS. Is it possible?
BEAT. Very easily possible: he wears his faith but as the fashion of his hat, it ever changes with the next block.c
Mess. I see, lady, the gentleman is not in your books.
BEAT. No: an he were, I would burn my study. But, I pray you, who is his companion? Is there no young squarerd now, that will make a voyage with him to the devil ?
His five wits-] With our early writers the five senses were usually so called :“ Certes delites been after the appetites of the fire wittis ; as sight, hereing, smelling, savouring, and touching.”—The Persones Tale of CHAUCER.
“ I am callyd Sensuall Apetyte
Interlude of The Four Elements. b Bear it for a difference-] That is, heraldically, for a distinction. So poor Ophelia, in “Hamlet,” Act IV. Sc. 5:
“You may wear your rue with a difference.” c The next block.] The block was the mould on which the felt hats of our ancestors were shaped ; and, as the mutability of fashion was shown in nothing so much as in the head-dresses of both sexes, these blocks must have been perpetually changing their form.
Squarer-] Squarer may perhaps mean quarreller, as to square is to dispute.
Mess. He is most in the company of the right noble Claudio.
BEAT. O Lord! he will hang upon him like a disease: he is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker runs presently mad. God help the noble Claudio! if he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pound ere he be cured.
MESS. I will hold friends with you, lady.
MEss. Don Pedro is approached.
CLAUDIO, and BENEDICK. D. PEDRO. Good signior Leonato, you are come to meet your trouble: the fashion of the world is to avoid cost, and you encounter it.
LEON. Never came trouble to my house in the likeness of your grace: for trouble being gone, comfort should remain ; but when you depart from me, sorrow abides, and happiness takes his leave.
D. PEDRO. You embrace your charge too willingly. I think, this is your daughter.
LEON. Her mother hath many times told me so.
D. PEDRO. You have it full, Benedick: we may guess by this what you are, being a man. Truly, the lady fathers herself. Be happy, lady! for you are like an honourable father.
BENE. If signior Leonato be her father, she would not have his head on her shoulders, for all Messina, as like him as she is.
BEAT. I wonder that you will stillc be talking, signior Benedick ; nobody marks you.
BENE. What, my dear lady Disdain! are you yet living ?
BEAT. Is it possible Disdain should die, while she hath such meet food to feed it, as signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.
BENE. Then is courtesy a turn-coat. But it is certain, I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard heart, for truly I love none.
BEAT. A dear happiness to women; they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God, and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that; I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow, than a man swear he loves me.
BENE. God keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some gentleman or other shall 'scape a predestinate scratched face.
(*) First folio omits, sir. · Enter, &c.] In the old copies the direction is, “ Enter don Pedro, Claudio, Benedicke, Balthasar, and Iohn the bastard.”
b The lady fathers herself.] This phrase, Steevens observes, is still common in Dorsetshire. “ Jack fathers himself," is like his father. There was a French saying to the same effect, older than Shakespeare's time :-"Il pourtrait fort bien à son père."
• Still be talking,-) Always be talking.